Department of Communication



Message Preparation: Oral Delivery

Chapter 15


In a perfect world made up of ideal audiences and sources, delivery would not matter. Both would focus on the substance and organization of ideas and not the oral delivery. But since we don’t live in that world, it’s vital we understand delivery and how it can help (and hurt) our message. A lot of meaning is carried in how we deliver a message. Some of it is intentional and accurately reflects our message. But also much is unintentional and is a distortion of our message. The messages get carried verbally and nonverbally and are subject to inaccurate interpretation for many reasons.

Effect of Delivery on Attitude Change—

Depending on the study, the audience attitude change may be little to none or it may be quite significant. One key point: with a strong message, good delivery produces significantly more attitude change in the desired direction than does weak delivery. In short, good delivery is not a substitute for a good message or content, but without it good content is less effective. Good delivery will not make up for a poor message but it can make a good message more effective. Poor delivery will probably have a greater negative effect than good delivery will have a positive one. Delivery will not produce attitude change but it can be an effective ingredient in the rhetorical mix that will let the message or content do its work as intended.

The Effect of Delivery on Comprehension of Content—

Studies show that it can be more helpful in understanding content than in affecting audience attitude change. Clarity is a vital factor in rhetorical communication and good delivery is a definite influence in building clarity. Good delivery usually makes any message clearer and poor delivery does the opposite. In short, good delivery will strengthen understanding and have a positive influence on the audience’s understanding.

The Effect of Delivery on Ethos—

Delivery has an effect on a source’s terminal ethos. Sources with good delivery were consistently observed to have higher terminal ethos than those with poor delivery. Delivery can have an effect on the speaker’s credibility without necessarily affecting a change in the audience’s attitude. If the source has poor delivery and presents a message that causes attitude inconsistency in the audience’s mind, the odds are higher that the audience will take a derogatory attitude toward the speaker rather than change their attitude as a way to resolve the inconsistent feelings. There are many factors that affect audience attitudes when mixed with the speaker’s delivery. In short, delivery can have a definite impact on the speaker’s terminal ethos. We might not change our attitude about the message delivered but we may still think highly of the speaker delivering it.

The Nature of Good Delivery—

To be an effective rhetorician we must have reasonably strong delivery skills. The key elements are naturalness and a conversational quality.

Naturalness—the goal is to be as natural as possible. Gone are the days when delivery was carefully scripted and performed to conform to a message. The most natural delivery is one that does not call attention to itself. Delivery should never be the reason for an audience to listen. It should enhance and make the message more effective but never take center stage. But sometimes it does. When the content has been effectively delivered, the audience will not single out any one aspect of the delivery. It is like a well-umpired sporting event. The game is officiated best when the least amount of attention is called to that particular activity. It does not call attention to itself.

Conversational Quality—This should begin in the thinking stage for the source. To think or plan an extemporaneous delivery. And then the delivery must be delivered in a style that is audience-centered; or delivered to a audience; not at them. The audience will feel a part of the message; as if it is being given to them on a one-on-one basis. The conversational quality will adapt or change to fit the audience. This is not a one-size-fits-all characteristic.

These two characteristics are quite elementary or basic, but still speakers have trouble with delivery. The two most frequently cited reasons are:

Speakers are not audience-centered. The audience often does not feel as though they are being spoken to….but rather they feel like they are spoken at. We often forget why are speak. We speak so that the audience will learn something from us. When we start speaking for our own agenda, it is hard to be audience-centered.

Speakers are frequently nervous; they have stage fright. In reality, the impact of nervousness and communicating an effective message is minimal. We tend to think or feel it is bad, but in reality an audience senses only a small percentage of what we feel.

Nervousness and Delivery—

Speakers who get hung up on themselves and their little imperfections are destined for trouble. This self-centeredness can be highly detrimental as it serves only to fuel the fires of nervousness. The key is to be audience-centered; to worry only about getting your point across to your audience in a manner that will be meaningful to them. Audiences are concerned with what you have to say; not how you look or other personal items as such. Students in a classroom setting are likely in the most difficult environment to deliver an effective message. Few other places in life have an instructor watching for every flaw and subtly of the message that goes into a written critique and ultimately a letter grade. Anyone who can survive classroom speeches probably is ready for just about anything the “real world” can throw at them. Bottom line is often linked to the attitude of the speaker. If your attitude is positive and you are truly interested in your topic and your audience, the audience-centered attitude will arise and the overall delivery will be good enough to get the job done.

Five Elements of Good Delivery—

These elements impact delivery. They occur in conjunction with each other and need to be viewed in their entirety. In the end, they can have a significant effect on the audience’s ability to comprehend the message:

Direct Eye Contact—ideally each member of the audience gets looked at. Our text says there is no such thing as too much direct eye contact. That is not to imply that staring at someone is acceptable behavior. Extemporaneous speaking provides for adequate eye contact. Manuscript speaking is inherently dangerous in this element and should be avoided unless word choice and control are vital.

Effective Use of Voice—several sub-categories make up voice use:

Volume: too loud or too soft produce problems. Don’t take this element for granted since the audience needs to hear you before anything else matters.

Rate: the speed of your delivery. The best communicators can vary their rate to a speed appropriate for the subject matter. Most have a tendency to speed up their rate due to nervousness. Few suffer from speaking too slowly.

Pitch: A vocal variation of the voice when speaking. No variation between highs and lows produces a monotone. Most people have a sufficiently varied pitch to get by. Our habitual pitch (the pitch we normally have to our voice) is usually good enough. Our goal is called optimum pitch; the difference between the highs and lows we can produce without straining our voice.

Articulation: speaking the words clearly and correctly. Mispronounced or poorly spoken words can damage ethos while overly precise articulation can be distracting in its own right.

Fluency: conversationally fluid speaking but without the conversational flaws we often let slip into our everyday language. We may tolerate some “ah’s” and “like’s” in conversation but rhetorical communication cannot afford some a degree of non-fluency.

Pause: A well chosen pause is a silent way of saying “listen up, this is important.” This can be an effective way to bring emphasis to an idea or bring attention to your last point without having to say so directly to your audience. Don’t use too many but selective use can be a perfect complement to effective delivery.

Effective Body Action—We have a variety of ways we can use our bodies to communicate messages:

Posture: “Comfortably erect” is the key. Don’t slouch; don’t lean into the lectern; don’t put your feet on the base; do rest your notes on it; don’t carry them. Remember that bad posture can hurt your ethos more than good posture can help it. People expect speakers to have good posture. Not to have good posture can be damaging to a speaker’s credbility.

Movement: No movement is bad; excessive movement is bad; but a little movement can be beneficial. It becomes hard for any audience to listen for long periods to anyone who does not move at all. Pacing can be a major distraction as audiences are likely to focus on the movement at the expense of the message.

Gestures: Let them be a natural extension of your message. Great means to add emphasis to message. We typically do not make conscious gestures so keep your hands/arms in a position where they can do what they naturally do.

Facial Expression: Smiles are almost always appropriate for speeches. Exceptions are obvious, but usually a smile is an effective expression. Watch out for smirks and looks of disgust. They may be very subtle but audiences will detect them. Make them work for you; not against you.

Variety—This is the opposite of monotony as it increases interest in what you have to say. Essentially, this is the right combination of rate, pitch, volume, pauses, gestures and movement. The compilation of the other elements mixed together to get an overall effect.

Immediacy—The degree of perceived physical or psychological distance between people in a relationship. In general, the more immediate a relationship, the more those in the relationship like one another and are willing to be influenced by one another. It’s not easy to generate a sense of immediacy in a public speaking setting. The very nature of it is somewhat distant from the audience. Effective delivery can help overcome this inherent weakness. This is a personal style of speaking which uses inclusive language like “us” and “we.” Moving out from the lectern or podium to get closer to the audience and/or to remove the physical structure between speaker and audience can also help create a sense of immediacy. The goal is to create an interactive relationship between speaker and audience. Additionally, effective eye contact, facial expressions, and proper dress can all be pluses in establishing this psychological connection. Immediacy helps increase audience attention, reduces the tension that might exist, increases a greater liking between speaker and audience, and increases the chances that the speaker’s goal will be accomplished.

Using Notes—

Much of what the text states is common sense. But within this section it is important to remember that effective speakers will keep their notes to a minimum. The more notes taken to the stage, the greater the likelihood of a manuscript delivery and the chances of effective delivery are diminished greatly. Second, don’t gesture holding notes. It is a distraction and many audiences will focus more on the notes being flashed in front of them than on the content of the message. And finally, don’t worry or be ashamed of using notes. Only a fool delivers a public speech without any type of notes. You may never need them, but always wise to have them. Audiences typically don’t care what your notes are. They are interested in what you have to say; not the style of your notes or if you use them.

How to Achieve Good Delivery—

Proper attitude is fundamental in developing an effective delivery. A good attitude toward the audience and respect for yourself as a speaker are both fundamental toward good delivery. Practice is also a necessary factor. There is no fast way to become an effective communicator. Some people will learn it faster than others, but delivery must be learned by all. It is not an inherent skill that some of us naturally possess. Even with considerable practice the chances of being perfect every time is not realistic, if attainable at all. The goal is to get your ideas; our goals and purpose down clearly. Typically we don’t worry about exact wording as each practice run-through will reflect slightly different delivery than the one before it.